According to J. Allen Hynek’s, a close encounter of the first kind is the sighting of an unidentified flying object*. A close encounter of the second kind is a discovery of a phenomena after a UFO has been spotted. This could be anything ranging from a crop circle to electronic interference. A close encounter of the third kind occurs when there is visual confirmation of an alien being associated with a UFO. For most trainees in advertising, the spotting of a client is akin to a close encounter of the first kind. When those same trainees are exposed to client phenomena such as the famous ‘It’s nice, BUT…” response to creative, it’s a close encounter of the second kind. When they are finally allowed to make a solo presentation to a client, the experience can be said to be a close encounter of the third kind. This is the story of Joseph George and his first close encounter of the third kind.
I met Joe (Joseph George) sometime last year at a dinner hosted by a mutual friend. It was then that he revived a delightful memory of his first experience with making a solo presentation to a client’s top management.
The client in question was Canbank Mutual Funds. The year was 1994 or 1995. Joe was the Account Executive or maybe Senior Account Executive on the account. As I recall it, we had just finished pitching for the account. That pitch is a favourite personal memory because of two things.
The unit (Lintas Bombay III) had a daunting growth target. To meet the target, I used to scour The Economic Times for new business leads. On one such day, I came across a news item that Canbank Mutual Funds was planning to aggressively market its offerings. I tracked down the name and coordinates of the Canbank manager handling advertising and called him up. That one phone call resulted in Lintas being invited to pitch for the account. I was over the moon, I can tell you. An off chance had resulted in a valuable new business lead. But wait, the pitch is an even more cherished memory for what followed.
What did I, or anyone else in Bombay III know about mutual funds? Zilch! With zero knowledge, how on earth were we going to win the account? I was petrified at the prospect of falling flat on our faces. I couldn’t let that happen. I simply couldn’t. So, what we did was to clip out and read every single article on mutual funds we could find from past issues of The Economic Times and Business India. No Internet those days to help us. We had to go through dusty archives to locate the information we needed.
To cut a long story short, we read, we absorbed, we understood, and then developed a strategy for Canbank. The effort was well worth it. At the end of the pitch, one member of the client audience remarked, “Madam, today, you have told us facts about mutual funds that even we didn’t know.”
We went back to the agency floating several feet above the ground. A few days later, the euphoria increased when I received a call informing us that Lintas had been shortlisted. We would now be asked to make a presentation to the Board of Directors in the final round of agency selection.
The call to make the presentation came on a day when I was at a meeting with Johnson & Johnson. On being told I was not in office, the client insisted on speaking to someone else. The call was handed over to Joe, sending him into a tail spin. You see, the client was calling from the Board meeting venue to ask that Lintas come immediately and make the presentation.
As Joe tells it, he made several frantic calls to the Johnson & Johnson office. No mobile phones in those days.
As I remember, he couldn’t get through. I did, however, get a message asking me to come directly to the Oberoi hotel. Joe would meet me there with all the pitch materials. When I finally made it, I spotted a nervous Joe waiting for me in the lobby. He walked up to me and said, “Lata, they couldn’t wait. I had to go ahead and make the presentation.”
Joe was expecting me to freak out. How could an account executive make such an important presentation?
I did freak out. I gave him a big hug and said, “Wow, Joe. Good show. How did it go?”
Honestly, I don’t remember but according to Joe, I went around the agency telling all and sundry, “You know what young Joe did?”
Did we win the account?
Yes, we did!
Not just that. We went on to create a first in the annals of mutual fund advertising history in India. We put Canbank Mutual on television.
There’s more to the story. The Canbank Mutual television commercial we created went on to win the Gold that year at the AAAI awards.
Around 22 years later, Joe went onto recently add another warm touch to this tale from our days in advertising.
Two nights ago, I received a WhatsApp message from Joe. The message had a link to his recent interview with Brand Equity on ET NOW and said, “I have acknowledged you as a key influencer in my career. Thank you Boss!”
This from someone who went on to becoming Group Chairman & CEO, India and Regional President, South & SouthEast Asia of the Mullen Lowe Lintas Group.
I know now why Joe made it to the top.
He is one amongst a rare breed of people who absorb important life lessons and deploy them. This rare breed also builds great relationships by the simple act of acknowledging people who played a role in their career.
Thank you Joe… for being you. Thank you for making my day! And, my best wishes for whatever you plan to do next.
Here’s a link to Joe’s Brand Equity interview:
Post Script: It would be highly remiss of me if I failed to mention that my reaction to Joe’s presenting to the Canbank Board had a precedent. You see, I had learnt from Alyque Padamsee and Prem Mehta the importance of highlighting courageous initiatives and a derring-do spirit. In fact, I would say it was the Lintas way. That’s how the agency is the advertising institution it has been and still is. Quite obviously, Joseph George has continued the tradition of teaching through organizational stories. I know this because he told me that he has recounted the Canbank Mutual funds story to many an eager, hungry to learn, young ear.
Featured Cover Image: Courtesy Joseph George.
*For more information on the ‘Close Encounter’ classification system, read The seven classes of extraterrestrial close encounters.